Sitting in a hospital room, a little boy draws a picture of Spider-Man. His favorite superhero is going to help him in his next battle: defeating cancer. He hears a knock on the door and looks up from his drawing to see — could it be? Spider-Man is standing in his room, but different than the one on his page, it is a Cobber. She bends down, handing him a knit beanie telling him to “Love Your Melon.” A smile sweeps across his face as he slides the hat on his head and hands her his drawing.
This Spider-Man wasn’t just any superhero, she was a Cobber, representing Concordia’s new Love Your Melon club.
College students have been delivering special hats to kids battling cancer in the United States for over three years as part of Love Your Melon, an organization founded in an entrepreneurship class by two friends at the University of St. Thomas. Zach Quinn and Brian Keller had the simple idea of giving a hat to every child in America who was battling cancer, according to the LYM website. With over 15,000 children in the United States diagnosed with cancer each year, this was a pretty big goal.
Originally LYM used a buy one, give one program; every time a hat was purchased, another hat would be donated to a child with cancer. Now with over 45,000 hats on reserve for the children, LYM has adopted a new system with half of its proceeds going to two different charities: Pinky Swear Foundation, which supports families with kids battling cancer, and CureSearch, an organization committed to childhood cancer research in order to find a cure.
The LYM organization has now established the Campus Crew program, which involves recruiting college students across the nation to become Love Your Melon ambassadors. These students are responsible for sharing LYM’s mission in their own communities by selling and donating hats, holding events and raising awareness for childhood cancer.
The ambassador program now involves more than 7,500 college students at over 500 universities across the United States, according to the LYM website. Just last spring, Concordia College was added to that list.
“[My roommate and I] were brainstorming, like could this be something that would be cool at Concordia?” said Hannah Fordahl, founder and crew captain of Concordia’s LYM club.
With a current waiting list of over 40 students to get into the 20-person-max club, the club is certainly becoming pretty “cool” on campus.
After becoming a certified crew through LYM last spring, the next step was to become an official Concordia College organization. Beginning the process in the fall of 2015, the club didn’t become official until this past December. LYM secretary Abby Kratzke said the process wasn’t as smooth as they’d hoped. “It was kind of complicated, because we have to make sure we follow the guidelines of both Love Your Melon and Concordia College,” Kratzke said.
However, there are several benefits that come from being certified on campus as well as under LYM, said Becca Moe, crew vice captain. “[Being a Concordia organization] definitely helped a lot with being able to advertise. We’re also having an event at the end of the month selling hats in the Atrium. I don’t think we’d be able to do that if we weren’t a campus organization,” Moe said.
Becoming an official campus organization was a significant step for Fordahl, who has been working on growing LYM for almost a year. Attending the University of St. Thomas her freshman year of college, Fordahl was inspired by the excitement surrounding LYM on the founding campus. After she transferred to Concordia, she wanted to spread LYM’s mission here as well.
“I just emailed [LYM] my name and some people that would like to be on it with me, and that was pretty much it. So, it was really easy last year,” Fordahl said.
As simple as it was to gain interest in the club, maintaining it isn’t quite as easy. Moe explained some challenges the club has faced. “Love Your Melon already is an organization in itself, so it can be hard to make sure we’re sticking to their regulations and their policies,” Moe said.
From only being able to use specific fonts on their posters to having to post on social media at least seven times a week, it can start to be a large commitment for the ambassadors. Public relations manager Olivia Hanson sometimes struggles to keep up with the requirements.
“It can be pretty hard. On my side of it, for the PR stuff, it was getting kind of difficult to come up with stuff to say, especially at times when [LYM] isn’t coming out with new stuff, since I can retweet their posts,” Hanson said. “You even have to say how many likes you got on your post — it’s intense,”
Secretary Abby Kratzke thought it might be due to the size of the organization, saying, “They’ve gotten a lot more strict this year.
They were so new last year, but they’ve grown so much. It’s crazy.”
LYM has a cap of 20 official student ambassadors per campus, but with growing interest in the Concordia club, numbers have risen beyond that limit. However, according to Fordahl, the club has a way to handle this limit. “Love Your Melon has people on the crew and then volunteers, but everybody is basically promoting the name. There’s really not much difference between the two. It just makes it easier organizing events,” Fordahl said. Those on the volunteer list will eventually move up to be official members as people graduate. Until then, they can participate in on-campus events such as hat sales and help with Relay for Life, one of the club’s biggest events. This year they’ll be teaming up with the LYM crew on MSUM’s campus for the event.
Besides participating in Relay for Life and holding several other fundraising and hat sale events, one of the club’s largest, and most rewarding, duties is donating hats to children battling cancer in the area. “It’s always at Sanford, on the children’s floor. We’ll get together as a club beforehand and dress up as superheroes,” said Moe. “Then we go room to room and visit with the patients. They’re always so excited.”
The LYM national organization sets up the donation times with the hospital and then sends the hats and other merchandise to the campus crew for them to deliver. They also provide each crew with two superhero costumes. The Concordia crew has participated in three donation events so far and anticipates the next one.
The club also had the privilege of giving an exciting gift to a local teen battling cancer. Concordia’s crew won a nationwide photo challenge through LYM last spring, and the
prize was a helicopter ride for a local child. “We won the cutest superhero challenge,” Kratzke said. Bri Lee took the picture of a little boy, Tate, wearing LYM gear and a superman costume while holding hands with Kernel Cobb.
The winning picture has since been used in promotional flyers and pamphlets across the United States. As for the prize, Jadyn, a teen in the area, was selected to ride in the helicopter. She had undergone 16 rounds of chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s lymphoma that year, and the crew was proud to provide her with this opportunity. Events like these remind the crew what Love Your Melon is all about. Fordahl said her motivation for starting the club stemmed not only from attending St. Thomas, but also from personal connections.
“I’ve had a few members of my family with cancer. My aunt died of cancer, so I guess it’s just kind of close to home. Everyone knows someone affected by it,” Fordahl said. “So, I thought Love Your Melon would be something cool to help give back.”
As popular as the hats are, coming in many different colors, patterns, and styles, senior member Brenton Douglass reminds us to think about what it stands for. “Some people see it as a fashion statement, but the cause is what really matters,” Douglass said.
And who better to fight for a cause than our favorite superheroes? However, one often finds that the faces behind the masks are those of everyday people just wanting to make a difference. Wonder Woman could be a quiet coworker, Batman could be the guy next door and your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man might just be a fellow Cobber.
This article was submitted by Bailey Tillman, contributing writer.